January 22, 2006
Trouble-Free Living, If a Bird Is Willing
By JEFF HOLTZ
TO use a line from the 1989 movie ''Field of Dreams,'' some shoreline residents trying to help the embattled monk parakeets are on a mission: if you build it, they will come.
Residents have been installing 20-foot-high nesting platforms to entice the parakeets to live on those, instead of utility poles, where large nests have caused electrical transformers to overheat and catch fire.
Earlier this month, United Illuminating ended a six-week program in which 179 parakeets nesting on utility poles were captured killed with carbon monoxide gas by the United States Department of Agriculture. Al Carbone, a spokesman for the company, said 103 nests were removed from poles in Bridgeport, Milford, Stratford and West Haven.
Priscilla Feral, executive director of Friends of Animals, a group in Darien that opposed United Illuminating's actions and recently field a suit against the company in New Haven Superior Court over its treatment of the birds, said the blueprint for the platforms came from Marc Johnson, the operator of a parrot sanctuary in Rockland, Mass.
Mr. Johnson said on Wednesday that the parakeets have been nesting on the platforms he had installed in Massachusetts. He said there are already eight platforms up in West Haven and Stratford and that he is building at no charge another 23 for Connecticut residents. He said a platform usually costs about $100 to build.
Ms. Feral said the parakeets could take to the platforms, especially if they are near where a nest had been taken down.
''What we're hoping is that they become attracted to them and that they begin to put twigs on them and build a nest,'' she said.
Julie Cook, 37, a nursing student in West Haven who was arrested last year when she tried to stop United Illuminating workers from capturing some of the birds on a utility pole near her home on Ocean Avenue, put one of the platforms on her property just before Christmas. She said it was working.
''Four or five parakeets have been flying around it and they've just started to build a nest,'' Ms. Cook, whose case was eventually dismissed in court, said on Tuesday.
Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society, said the parakeets had indeed nested on the platforms in Massachusetts.
''It remains to be seen whether these platforms are preferred by the parakeets, and do they use them as alternatives to utility poles or just additional nesting sites,'' he said. ''We hope they choose them over the utility poles, but we just don't know yet.''
Mr. Carbone said United Illuminating would continue to monitor the utility poles where nests were removed. He said that in the past, the parakeets had almost always rebuilt where a nest was torn down.
''These birds imprint strongly,'' he said.
Mr. Carbone said the company would continue to look for a ''non-lethal solution.''
''It has to be scientifically effective, but it also has to be prudent and cost effective too, because all of our customers are going to pay for it if this is a continuing problem,'' he said.
GRAPHIC: Photos: A 20-foot-high nesting platform at the home of Julie and Jim Cook in West Haven. Ms. Cook said parakeets moved in and have begun to build a nest. (Photographs by Carl David LaBianca for The New York Times)